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Adam Scott defends Houston with an eye on Augusta

Defending champion Adam Scott heads a strong field for this week's Houston Open at a Redstone Golf Club set up to mimic conditions at Augusta for the US Masters later this month.

Scott will vie with other world top-10 golfers Phil Mickelson (2), Steve Stricker (4) and K.J. Choi (7) on the 7,457-yard layout edged by light rough and closely cropped chipping areas.

British Open champion Padraig Harrington is one of a large contingent of international players who will tee it up on Thursday and who are also gearing up for a run at the year's first grand slam championship.

The 12th-ranked Harrington finished 68-69 to tie for fourth at last week's New Orleans Classic.

"As I got more into contention my focus got sharper, and that's pleasing," the Irishman told reporters after his Sunday finish in New Orleans. "Only another four rounds of golf to make sure it's sharp the first day in Augusta."

The 27-year-old Scott carried on a Houston trend last year when he rolled in a 50-footer on the last hole to complete a three-shot victory over fellow Australian Stuart Appleby.

Scott became the sixth Australian to win the event following Appleby, who has won it twice, Robert Allenby, Bruce Crampton, Bruce Devlin and David Graham.

Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 US Open champion who is ranked 11th, and Peter Lonard, whose second-place finish last week in New Orleans clinched him a berth in the Masters, are among others hoping to extend the Australian magic.

Scott has been wielding a magical putter this year, buoying his hopes of breaking through for his first major. Scott, whose five US wins include the 2004 Players Championship and 2006 Tour Championship, ranks first in putting from 15-20 feet and is second-ranked from 10-15 feet on the tour.

Earlier this year Scott notched his eighth international win when he fired a final-round 61 at the Qatar Masters.

Houston marks the last chance for more than 100 players who have not yet qualified for the Masters to join the party at the year's opening grand slam event since victory in Houston brings an automatic invitation.

Among notable players still hoping to crack the Masters field is Davis Love III, who has struggled since having surgery on his ankle last season.

Love has played in every major since the 1990 British Open but will compete in Augusta only if he can win in Houston.

Thirteen years ago Love needed a victory the week before the Masters to qualify and he came through to win in New Orleans and finish runner-up in Augusta.

April 2, 2008




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